Changemakers in an Entrepreneurial Society - event report
Around 200 social entrepreneurs, students, policy makers, academics and investors participated in the event “Changemakers in an Entrepreneurial Society” on Thursday afternoon, June 1st 2017. The event was organised by Utrecht University and B-Lab Europe, and hosted in the Janskerk and at the Faculty of Law, Economics and Governance in Utrecht. Goal of the event was to connect different stakeholders at the intersection of science and real-world challenges we are facing.
Utrecht-based student organisations active in social entrepreneurship also presented themselves: Academics for Development, Enactus, Solve and De Kleine Consultant.
Sparks for change
Participants were welcomed by professor Annetje Ottow, Dean of the Faculty of Law, Economics and Governance, and by Nathan Gilbert (B Lab Europe). Annetje Ottow explained why the topic of social entrepreneurship makes for an excellent fit with the mission of Utrecht University. Utrecht University’s Social Entrepreneurship Initiative (SEI) is pursuing novel research into the role of social entrepreneurship for spurring social innovation in the value chain. This research is made possible by Tony’s Chocolonely, the leading Dutch social enterprise, ABN AMRO and other partners. Annetje Ottow also thanked Sjoerd Kamerbeek, UU alumnus and now representing SEI partner Van Doorne, for his sparks that contributed to the start of SEI. Host of the day was Hubertine Roessingh (B Lab Europe) who did an excellent job including all participants in our journey.
The changemakers landscape
Professor Harry Hummels (Utrecht University) provided a historical note in his speech, reminding the audience that Jacques van Marken acted as a genuine social entrepreneur already at the end of the 19th century. His “Nederlandsche Gist- en Spiritus Fabriek”, was the first Dutch company with a works council and provided employee benefits that were unprecedented in those years. The company is now part of DSM and is an excellent example of social entrepreneurship writ large. The challenges our society faces – expressed in the UN Sustainable Development Goals – require large companies, like DSM, Danone or Wessanen, to take decisive social and environmental action – and demonstrate leadership and B the Change in the field of social entrepreneurship. A second point that professor Hummels made concerned the separation of ownership and management. In his view, full separation may be of interest to shareholders in the short run but does not serve society in the longer run.
Meet the changemakers
Nathan Gilbert stressed the growth in organisations that have joined B Lab Europe’s B Corp assessment over the past two years. Going through these assessments helps social entrepreneurs steering their organisations towards the social impact they intend to make in the world. Meanwhile, they are also part of an interesting community of changemakers. Challenged by B Lab Europe Founder, Marcello Palazzi, Entrepreneurs of three B Corp-certified organisations echoed this in their own words: Mariah Mansveldt Beck (Yoni), Teyler Padberg (Farmbrothers) and Maurits Groen (Waka Waka).
How to be the change
Participants took part in six workshops that blended perspectives from academia and practitioners. The workshops ranged from investing in societal challenges, impact measurement, how to build a meaningful brand, regional ecosystems of social entrepreneurship, the transition from corporate social responsibility to social business to the relevance of becoming a B Corp. The workshops were enabled by ABN AMRO, Avance Impact, Dopper, Gemeente Utrecht, Kirkman Company, PYMWYMIC, Rainbow Collection, Social Enterprise NL and Van Doorne - next to Utrecht University ad B Lab Europe.
Be the change or… go home
The closing plenary session was a conversation between Leen Zevenbergen (serial entrepreneur, now with Solarus) and Tessa Wernink (Fairphone). They interviewed each other, while closely connecting with the audience. Tessa and Leen talked amongst others about dilemmas that occurred in business, as well as the balance between work and private life.
The event was highly stimulating and reinforced the joint interest of academia, social entrepreneurs and other changemakers in their pursuit of tackling complex societal challenges. It formed one part of the Social Enterprise Days 2017 – organised during 1-2 June by Utrecht University, the City of Utrecht and Kirkman Company.